Here is the liberals’ problem in a nutshell: More than 30 percent of Americans happily answer to the appellation “conservative,” while 18 percent call themselves “liberal.” And yet when questioned by pollsters, a super-majority of more than 60 percent take positions liberal in everything but name. Indeed, on many if not most issues, Americans hold views well to the left of those espoused by almost any national Democratic politician.
In a May survey published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 65 percent of respondents said they favor providing health insurance to all Americans, even if it means raising taxes, and 86 percent said they favor raising the minimum wage. Seventy-seven percent said they believe the country “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.” A September Gallup Poll finds that 59 percent consider the Iraq War a mistake and 63 percent agree that US forces should be partially or completely withdrawn.
Nevertheless, extremist right-wingers, including a few apparent criminals, enjoy a stranglehold on our political system and media discourse. And so the majority views of the American people are treated with contempt by pundits and politicians alike. To give just a minor example, New York Times columnist David Brooks–the writer who best understands the dynamics of the contemporary Democratic Party, according to the smart boys at ABC’s The Note–began a recent screed with the proclamation: “After a while, you get sick of the DeLays of the right and the Deans of the left.” Note the implied equivalence between the corrupt and extreme Tom DeLay–who regularly compares the Environmental Protection Agency to the Nazis–and Howard Dean, a balanced-budget fiscal conservative and ally of the NRA whose “radical” position on Iraq now puts him to the right of most Americans. Or how about the treatment meted out by smarty-pants pundits to Al Gore, one of the few politicians who have given voice to majority American positions on the war, the environment and the dishonesty and ideological obsessions of the Bush Administration. Brooks termed him “unhinged.” Fred Barnes said he was “nutty.” Charles Krauthammer, speaking, he said, in his capacity as a psychiatrist, called him on “the edge of looniness.”
Because right-wingers have been so adept at controlling the political discourse, they have succeeded in moving the Democrats rightward too. Brooks himself has pointed out that the conservative media have “cohered to form a dazzlingly efficient ideology delivery system that swamps liberal efforts to get their ideas out.” In fact, all that’s necessary to discredit an individual or an idea in the present poisoned atmosphere is to apply the label “liberal,” which conservatives equate with “treason,” “slander” and “treachery” (Ann Coulter); “idiocy” (Mona Charen); “Communism” (David Horowitz); inspiration for child murder (Newt Gingrich); Islamic terrorism (Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Horowitz again); and priestly pedophilia (Rick Santorum).